Category: Tools & Techniques

Multiple Modes of Being Human

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) In the last couple of years, I have been toying around with the ideas of “modes of humanism,” “inventing new modes of being human,” and modes of existence, such as data swarms and the pre-, post-, and transhuman. However, I was never really able to wrap my head around the question, what it really means when Bergson, Simondon, and others speak about the possibilities of “new modes of being human.” Modes of being human signify a multiplicity of possible forms of being human. These forms differ historically and culturally. (read more...)

Screenshots of the Field: Viral Loads and the Contagious Potentials of Digital Ethnography

Over the course of the past six months, I have been actively doing fieldwork on HIV care in Turkey on Zoom. Believe it or not, for an anxious person like myself, who to this date did not approach or talk to anyone in the field without being completely soaked in sweat, I have actually been enjoying doing research online. I recognize the “anxieties, challenges, concerns, dilemmas, doubts, problems, tensions, and troubles” that arise from digital fieldwork, particularly given that the quality of being virtual does not guarantee exemption from gendered, ableist, and racialized violence. However, these issues do not exhaust the methodological possibilities and relational potentials of online research, which I address in this blog post. (read more...)

Rocket Scientists and Their Games: A Little-Known Slice of History

In the 21st century, game companies are expanding what can be done with 3D interactive tools and virtual spaces. Companies like Epic Games are increasing blurring the lines between industries as diverse as simulation, film production, and a wide range of XR experiences (virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality). In a recent example, an estimated 10.7 million people simultaneously logged on to Epic’s Fortnite for a live, in-game music experience(1). Over 30 years ago, the game industry was in its infancy, the Apple II personal computer had been introduced with little available software, and motivated people wrote their own programs. In 1986, a small Los Angeles game publisher called Electric Transit, Inc. released one of the first 3D games designed for a personal computer. Wilderness: A Survival Adventure, was a first-person, simulation/resource management game that could run under DOS or on an Apple II. (read more...)

The Messiness of Ethnography

Leaving academia forced me to think more deeply and critically about ethnography than I ever had before. In academic cultural anthropology, my classes, research, and readings all revolved around ethnography. However, my peers and I shared a basic understanding about the purpose of ethnography, the method of ethnographic fieldwork, and its definitions. Talk about ethnography often went largely unsaid, because, as cultural anthropologists, it was just what we did. (read more...)

Digital Mess as Method

Editor’s note: This is the second entry in the Second Project Series. This series explores an often undiscussed moment in professionalization: the shift from the research you began as a graduate student to the new work undertaken as an early- or mid-career scholar. This series is especially interested in personal journeys and institutional features that enabled or constrained this transition. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Lisa. There is a scene in season two of Mr. Robot where a smart house goes bad. Lights flicker, the stereo plays loudly, then cuts off, the alarm systems blares incessantly, and the temperature of the house drops. The wealthy inhabitant flees her domicile in dread. To her management company’s suggestion on how to fix the problem, she screams, “unplug what? Everything is inside the walls!” This scene condenses anxieties about the dark manipulable side of lifestyle technologies into one long jump cut of discomfiture. Indeed, when hackers can infect your thermostat with malware and demand ransom, these fears are re-legitimized. When I watch this scene, I see something else. The glitches in the house make me think of the ripples that disrupt the smooth functioning of our digital everyday. Those ripples are good things. They indicate that the data that surrounds us is uneven, imperfect, sloppy, full of holes. What if, instead of worrying about holes, we celebrate them? (read more...)

Facebook as research field and research platform: an e-seminar

CASTAC is proud to be co-hosting, with the Media Anthropology Network and Digital Anthropology Interest Group, an e-seminar on the many uses of Facebook in anthropological research. The seminar begins today, June 22, 2016, and it is being kicked off with a set of statements [PDF] by researchers whose projects have engaged Facebook, as part of their fieldwork or as a platform for disseminating and discussing their research: Philipp Budka (University of Vienna), Jordan Kraemer (Wesleyan University), Martin Slama (Austrian Academy of Sciences), and Sydney Yeager (Southern Methodist University). All readers of the blog are invited to participate in the discussion. The e-seminar is taking place on the medianthro list, so if you’re interested in joining the conversation, be sure to sign up there. (read more...)

The Second Project Project: The Security to Feel Insecure

Editor’s note: Platypus is launching a series called “The Second Project Project” that asks scholars to reflect on the process of developing new research projects at the intersection of anthropology, science, technology, and computing. Anthropologists, and most qualitative social scientists and humanities scholars, typically produce book-length research projects rather than series of articles, so the “second project” refers to the next major, book-length research project following the dissertation and  first book. During the week of March 21, I attended the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) international annual conference on developments in virtual reality. Though I had been reading up on virtual reality for the past few months, this was my first dip of the toe into an ethnographic field I hoped to explore in depth. I knew exactly zero people at this 500-person conference. The language on the conference posters in the hallway was mystifying. The thought of introducing myself to any of these strangers triggered butterflies in my stomach. I stood in fear of opening my mouth, thus betraying my outsider status. Right, I remembered, this is what the beginning of fieldwork feels like. It kind of sucks. This initial foray signifies a much delayed beginning of work on my “second project.” The question of my second project has been one I’ve artfully dodged since graduating in 2011 until just this past fall,  2015. The pressure of articulating a second project in my job applications—starting in my final year as a graduate student up until I secured my magical unicorn of a tenure-track position in 2014—led to a rather uncreative string of unstarted projects. These were often derivative of my first project, and ones that I felt comfortable approaching but neither inspired nor excited to work on. Only with the security of my current position did I feel I had the freedom and time to find a fieldsite that would, in fact, make me feel insecure (in both the best and worst ways). The predicament this raises is, with the realities of the current job market and ever growing expectations for what is accomplished before tenure, how do we find the time and space to develop this second project? (read more...)

Unpredictable Technologies: The need for thick description in regulatory decision-making

I call myself a scholar of information, communication, and technology with a view toward influencing law and policy. To that end, my motto over that last few years has been “Social Science matters!” And by that, I really mean that qualitative research, or research aimed at understanding how people and organizations actually use technology, is important for creating good law. To this end, ethnographic study, the kind that produces thick descriptions of people and culture, should be MO of any body tasked with writing regulations. Recently I was asked to participate in training a group of telecommunications regulators who want to conduct a regulatory impact assessment (RIA). A RIA is a thorough investigation of the possible impacts of a proposed or revised regulation. In the most basic sense, the investigation is used to forecast whether the new rule will achieve what it’s supposed to, and what else could happen. Countries around the world use RIAs to evaluate regulatory needs and possible interventions. US federal agencies have been required to conduct and submit RIAs since the early 1980s, and President Bill Clinton codified this requirement in 1993 with Executive Order 12866. A second executive order, 13563, requires that agencies use “the best available techniques to quantify anticipated present and future benefits and costs as accurately as possible.” (read more...)